Sobriety, Wine O'Clock, and the 24-Hour Woman
August 17, 2016 7:03 AM   Subscribe

"But knives and booze, yoga and booze, 13 mile runs and booze? What’s next to be liquored up: CPR training? Puppy ballet class? (Not really a thing, but someone should get on it.) Is there nothing so inherently absorbing or high-stakes or pleasurable that we won’t try to alter our natural response to it? Maybe women are so busy faking it — to be more like a man at work, more like a porn star in bed, more like 30 at 50 — that we don’t trust our natural responses anymore. Maybe all that wine is an Instagram filter for our own lives, so we don’t see how sallow and cracked they’ve become." Writer Kristi Coulter on making it to "the other side of the pool."
posted by sallybrown (55 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, maybe because even cool chicks are still women. And there’s no easy way to be a woman, because, as you may have noticed, there’s no acceptable way to be a woman. And if there’s no acceptable way to be the thing you are, then maybe you drink a little. Or a lot.

And yet, according to this woman, it's unacceptable to be a woman who likes to drink. Give me a break.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:14 AM on August 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


At the office, every desk near mine has a bottle of wine or liquor on it in case people are too lazy to walk the 50 feet to one of the well-stocked communal bars we’ve built our floor.

Traveling for work, I steel myself for the company-sponsored wine tasting. Skipping it is not an option.

Jesus. There's a lot of good stuff in here, but the first thing I find myself wanting to scream is "get the hell out of a company founded and staffed by functional alcoholics!"
posted by Mayor West at 7:16 AM on August 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


And yet, according to this woman, it's unacceptable to be a woman who likes to drink.

Perhaps you should read it again and see what she's really taking issue with there.
posted by Etrigan at 7:17 AM on August 17, 2016 [23 favorites]


I don't think make enough money or go to the right places for tequila being offered with my waxing session. My favourite local microbrewery does offer yoga and a beer tour afterwards, but it's geared toward both genders (and I have strolled by when it is happening; it is a rare even mix of both).

I thought about posting this earlier this week, but I feel like the comment she makes towards the end of the article, "Newly sober women have a lot of wonderful qualities, but lack of judginess not one of them" is spot on. She comes across as someone who really tries to be comfortable with being sober because she wants to be sober, but there's a lot of animosity towards women here, despite her anger should be with companies/businesses who use the "wine + activity" as a way to attract female customers.
posted by Kitteh at 7:18 AM on August 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


Perhaps you should read it again and see what she's really taking issue with there.

I read the whole thing. Sorry, this woman seems really bitter.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:19 AM on August 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


She's working so hard for something that nearly everything around her doesn't value. I appreciate this article very much.
posted by Braeburn at 7:23 AM on August 17, 2016 [18 favorites]


And yet, according to this woman, it's unacceptable to be a woman who likes to drink.

I think you're missing her point, which is that alcohol can be a social anesthetic. That it's being used to hide the incredible stress that women deal with on a regular basis, in lieu of fixing those problems.

There are also bits about the pervasiveness of drinking culture in the workplace that actually transcends gender. The opening bit about the corporate mixer on a business trip spoke heavily to me, a man who doesn't drink by choice, and who finds those sorts of events draining.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:26 AM on August 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


That it's being used to hide the incredible stress that women deal with on a regular basis, in lieu of fixing those problems.

Oh, absolutely. It's taken me nearly forty years to realize that if I have a shitty day, my first stop shouldn't be, "I want a beer." It feels good at the time, but then I become really aware that this is terrible behaviour.
posted by Kitteh at 7:29 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I read the whole thing. Sorry, this woman seems really bitter.

How many IBUs?
posted by srboisvert at 7:36 AM on August 17, 2016 [19 favorites]


I thought about posting this earlier this week, but I feel like the comment she makes towards the end of the article, "Newly sober women have a lot of wonderful qualities, but lack of judginess not one of them" is spot on. She comes across as someone who really tries to be comfortable with being sober because she wants to be sober, but there's a lot of animosity towards women here, despite her anger should be with companies/businesses who use the "wine + activity" as a way to attract female customers.

This quality is why I kept coming back to it, and eventually posted it. Maybe editing it out would have made the article more palatable to some, but it struck a chord with me in that, when I'm faced with choices about how to deal with the way our culture treats women, I do find myself irrationally angry at times at other women who choose to deal with it in different ways - perfecting performative femininity, for example, or parroting Lean In. Make no mistake - that's pure error on my part, because the blame lies with a culture that rewards women for being a certain way and dings them for being other ways.

This is a complex, raw piece. I felt that it made clear she can see through her own anger and realize what's the true source of it by the end, but I can understand how others interpret it differently. I just found it really thought-provoking.
posted by sallybrown at 7:43 AM on August 17, 2016 [37 favorites]


Her entire point is that being actively, deliberately sober is another item on the list of things that are socially policed for women. That it has a gendered component. No one is being sober at you.
posted by almostmanda at 7:45 AM on August 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


Today's wine culture is the You've come a long way, baby of yesterday's smoking culture.
posted by splitpeasoup at 7:48 AM on August 17, 2016 [33 favorites]


In my personal experience, the everything-goes-better-with-wine attitude among women is far more of a stereotype that is played out on Facebook than an actual reality. Which isn't to suggest that my friends and I don't have the occasional glass of wine, or even the occasional day when we really, really need a glass of wine, but most of our "need more wine" comments on Facebook are performative, rather than true to life.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:49 AM on August 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


I can't speak to women's experiences, but being a man does not mean that some people don't take it personally that you are sober; they often think you "are judging them". I think the older your social set runs, the less this happens, since most people have had the opportunity to see some of the lifecycle of alcohol abuse by middle-age. But it does happen.
posted by thelonius at 7:55 AM on August 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Her entire point is that being actively, deliberately sober is another item on the list of things that are socially policed for women. That it has a gendered component. No one is being sober at you.

Men are also socially policed for this. It's probably a different experience for them, because there are gendered aspects to what you should be drinking and why but it definitely exists for men, as well. There are a slew of AskMe questions from both men and women about how to explain not drinking in a socially acceptable way.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:59 AM on August 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


In my personal experience, the everything-goes-better-with-wine attitude among women is far more of a stereotype that is played out on Facebook than an actual reality.

Performance though it might be, have you ever thought about what kind of message that performance might be sending? Even unconsciously?

This isn't so much about not-drinking, or even about women who like to drink, so much as it's about choosing not to conform to a stereotypical role that has been set up for women to play, and that women are encouraged to play. And that stereotype is "wow, life is crazy, amirite? Oh well, ain't nothin' for how crazy life is except to drink, because what else can we do, tee-hee".

This is about how that stereotype is bullshit, and about how the fact that so many women are unconsciously encouraged to live that role is also bullshit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 AM on August 17, 2016 [30 favorites]


I'm not sure I agree that drinking is foisted on women so much as right now it's again trendy to embrace it, after a few periods where it felt like (sober) healthy living was what we were supposed to exemplify. EVERYTHING WINE is sort of the feminized version of the EVERYTHING BACON thing - you're supposed to want it, and it's good so people do, but I think it's more of a trend than a crisis. If it dulls the edge of the patriarchy, it also serves to get women together to fight it.

But I'd love to pull out my copy of The Feminine Mystique and compare notes - there is something to self-medicating as a societally approved go-to when fighting for feminism gets or even seems too hard.
posted by Mchelly at 8:12 AM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


My current and previous workplaces both lean towards heavy drinking, and even though I am not a teetotaler I would really welcome more separation between work and alcohol, in no small part because of how it interplays with gender.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:16 AM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Honestly I got the idea she hasn't been sober for that long, like a year or two, and is still doing a lot of work in dealing with the pervasive nature of alcohol in our culture, which I symapathize with a lot, because it is not so easy to do. It would be like if you beat your pill addiction but it was still kind of tough, and then every job in your field was all like "HEY EVERYBODY THERE'S XANAX IN THE BREAK ROOM".
posted by thelonius at 8:20 AM on August 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


Is there nothing so inherently absorbing or high-stakes or pleasurable that we won’t try to alter our natural response to it?

But even in this very essay she acknowledges that nobody, other than people who stand to profit from joint marketing opportunities, actually feels this way. Not everyone goes to "wine and yoga" because the natural response to yoga itself isn't "good enough." Some people go to yoga because they want to go to yoga, and if someone wants to give them a glass of wine at the end, so much the better.

It's pernicious but no more or less pernicious than all of the rest of the insidious marketing forces about. Or at least, it is no more so when you are not an alcoholic, or in recovery.

Fundamentally I think that's the catch. It is hard--and completely understandably so, please do not get me wrong!--for someone whose relationship to alcohol is primarily a disordered one to understand people for whom alcohol is a fairly neutral pleasure. And I do not think someone who is fighting for her sobriety needs to worry about whether she understands what alcohol means to someone like me, but it does mean that people like me probably won't get much out of her writing. Which is fine! I don't actually think this essay is FOR people who aren't alcoholics in recovery, frankly.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:21 AM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


I read this a week or so ago and was irritated by something about the tone that I think has struck other people, but actually being reminded of it this week I *do* totally get how irritating American drinking culture is/is becoming.

Like, it's almost like you're not allowed to enjoy drinking unless you are medicating? It's that "guilty pleasure" thing. It is performative, and the wine is as much figurative as literal.

And I feel like for the most part none of my social circles treat it that way (if anything, we are increasingly a people of afternoon socializing in which everyone opts for a soda or foofy coffee drink because they have shit to do later, with maybe one person saying "fuck it, I'm just going to clean house and take a nap" and getting a drink), and I am spared in my work culture because it's almost entirely Mormon, but I do find the general idea of "ladies require wine to enjoy even a single moment of selfish 'me time'" and "YOU WORK HARD NOW YOU DRINK HARD TO FORGET" tedious. I personally don't find it inescapable (my hair salon doesn't offer alcohol, for example) but I'll bet I would find it incredibly exhausting if I was actively working on not drinking.

I do know that in a couple of the larger skews-mostly-female FB groups I'm in, there's been a call for mindfulness about those offhand "I hope you get a big glass of wine when this is over" types of comments, and I have gotten a lot better about not doing that anymore, and about trying to make my own social events not be specifically about drinking, and if I still worked at "a drinking company with a software problem" I'd still be the stick in the mud demanding management keep in mind that some people don't drink for personal or religious reasons. I think that's a good thing to do for the culture in general.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:26 AM on August 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


I read this a week or so ago and was irritated by something about the tone that I think has struck other people,

I have been trying to get at that "something" as well. I think it is that it reminds me of the articles my newly-minted evangelical Christian friends post on Facebook about how hard it is to be A Real Believer in Christ when everyone around you is such a lost sad soul. The zeal of the converted and all.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:33 AM on August 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Mmm, I'm still not even seeing it as totally about the wine or whatever.

Like - there is a childhood friend on my facebook feed that is raising two lively boys, and there were a couple years there where she closed every Facebook post about one of their hijinks with the sentence "Calgon take me away!" And that just kind of set my teeth on edge because - Look, you're allowed to complain about things sometimes. And you are also allowed to enjoy a bubble bath sometimes. You do not always have to soften the complaints with a cutesy thing about self-medication, and you do not always have to justify your pleasing yourself by talking about how you've "earned" it.

It doesn't have to be wine, it can also be bubble baths or chocolate. But it's not about the wine, bubble baths or chocolate itself, it's about this self-effacing dance women do that's "I'm complaining but I'm showing you how I'm coping so you don't think I'm weak" on the one face and "I'm doing something pleasurable but look let me show you how I earned it" on the flip side.

Like, enjoy the wine or the Calgon for its own sake, and bitch about your job if you want. You're allowed to do that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:40 AM on August 17, 2016 [33 favorites]


This really is maddening, though: There are three themes in female-to-female cards: 1) being old as fuck, 2) men are from Mars, and 3) wine.

And I am sympathetic to her discomfort as a newly sober person navigating an ultra-saturated boozy culture. I'm also sympathetic to her being judgy, because sometimes I am judgmental too and that's pleasurable in itself.

But I regret the binary nature of it. We can all forgive ourselves for wanting to fuzz the edges here and there. Drunkennness in itself isn't a sin; people have been figuring out ways to get intoxicated since the beginning of time, blah blah. And truly, it's okay to want a break from life during our waking hours. But I also understand that the relentless promotion of it can feel like an assault to someone who is guarding their mental and physical health against its harms.
posted by witchen at 8:43 AM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


This really is maddening, though: There are three themes in female-to-female cards: 1) being old as fuck, 2) men are from Mars, and 3) wine.

I will confess that living in a neighborhood with three independent stationers and zero drugstores has made my memories of this phenomenon hazy. But if I recall correctly, male-to-male cards are similarly limited to 1) being old as fuck, 2) BOOBS OMG DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THEM and 3) Beer.

The greeting card industry should be nuked from orbit and I will champion that essay, when it is written, to the ends of the internet.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:52 AM on August 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's pernicious but no more or less pernicious than all of the rest of the insidious marketing forces about. Or at least, it is no more so when you are not an alcoholic, or in recovery.

Hi, I'm a male who chooses to not drink of my own volition, and the drinking culture in the US is incredibly pernicious because if you don't drink, you get marked as an other. The idea that friendly get-togethers need alcohol to be complete is a message that gets pushed hard in our society, and if you don't fit into it, you can be left out in the cold. And I've found that a lot of people don't ever see this.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:03 AM on August 17, 2016 [11 favorites]



This is sort of a fun juxtaposition to the Mathematician talking about grace in the other thread.
posted by srboisvert at 9:11 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


NoxAeternum, I think your statement could apply to an overwhelming array of lifestyle choices though.

The food culture in the US is incredibly pernicious to people who don't eat meat. To people who don't eat dairy. Etc. Etc. I was a vegetarian for a decade; at the time it absolutely marked me as Other, and ran counter to the heavy drumbeat of ALL BACON ALL THE TIME marketing that Mchelly mentioned above.

The clothing culture in the US is incredibly pernicious because it marks anyone who falls outside a very narrow range of body types as Other.

And so on. But the culprit isn't the individuals, it's the marketing, and the capitalist structure that desperately needs an Other so that it can convince people to spend money in an effort to avoid exclusion. I don't see drinking culture as being somehow above and beyond all of these other pernicious structures.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:13 AM on August 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Can we maybe try to keep the focus on the article's points about the interplay between alcohol use, sobriety, and being a woman in modern culture, rather than arguing that "men and women both deal with alcohol issues and issues with sobriety" and "people who have issues with things other than alcohol also have a hard time?" No one is denying that, but it feels a bit like telling the author "you're not the only one with problems, other people do too."
posted by sallybrown at 9:24 AM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


In college I took a feminist literature class & we had a unit on the Romance Novel. I went in to that thinking "pfffffff Romance Novels," but then we read an essay on what the popularity of romance novels might tell us about being a woman in America ---- that we turn to fantasy for things like love/romance/sexiness perhaps because it is missing in our real lives. And perhaps it's troubling that we're so easily satisfied by the fantasy that we don't pursue these things in our "real" lives. (Or perhaps not; the essay had it both ways). We also read a romance novel & it was awesome.

While this essay does have a bit of "Wake UP Sheeple" tone to it, it really reminds me of the romance novel essay --- Why do so many women "perform the need" or actually need to be drunk to get through their day? What are they getting from that & what does that tell us about what's missing from their lives?

I'm writing this comment as someone who is not drinking this year because of health reasons. And I really, really, really want to drink. So, I guess personally, I also feel introspective about what the purpose of drinking is in my life & note that it's mostly that I don't really know how to relax without it or do not give myself permission to relax without it.
posted by CMcG at 9:33 AM on August 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


I don't see drinking culture as being somehow above and beyond all of these other pernicious structures.

I do see drinking as different from food, clothing, etc, etc, because of the social lubricant aspect.

For people who enjoy drinking, there are lots of activities that are made more fun by the availability of alcohol. So, when non-drinkers (male or female) imply that there should be fewer activities where alcohol is available, it seems to the people who enjoy drinking that the non-drinkers want activities to be less fun. This assumption is neither fair nor true, and it's reasonable to question whether activities that are not fun without alcohol are actually fun at all, but that's how statements like "The idea that friendly get-togethers need alcohol to be complete is a message that gets pushed hard in our society, and if you don't fit into it, you can be left out in the cold." read.

You can't say the same things about diet or clothing, regardless of marketing. Eating meat when hanging out with vegetarians doesn't make the hanging out more enjoyable -- maybe the meal will be more enjoyable, but one's perception of the company, the conversation, the atmosphere isn't actively altered by putting bacon into one's salad. So when vegetarians say: I wish there was less advertising about meat, or I wish my friends would plan more activities at meat free restaurants, it never sounds like they are saying "I wish my friends enjoyed activities less."
posted by sparklemotion at 9:40 AM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Performance though it might be, have you ever thought about what kind of message that performance might be sending? Even unconsciously?

I can think about it, but do we really want to start policing women for their social bonding activities instead of (or more likely, in addition to) their drinking?

I think that's where the tone of this piece rubs me the wrong way. It seems like concern trolling -- she hates that she's faced with lots of alcohol advertising and alcohol social media posts, and she's framing that distaste as concern for women and why they need to drink to get through their lives. There's a strong undercurrent of "women are doing this wrong" built into what she's saying.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:49 AM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Empress, I'm going to assume that Calgon in the US is different to Calgon in the UK, where it is a washing machine de-scaler.
posted by tinkletown at 10:05 AM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Anecdotal facts out of my experience as a man who got sober:

-Being sober around boisterous drunk people is irritating, no matter who you are.
-Being a sober alcoholic around alcohol is a neutral experience at best, and an exhausting experience at worst.
-Being a newly sober alcoholic around boisterous drunk people whips up a mental and emotional cyclone of anxiety, bitterness, jealousy, sour grapes, self-righteousness, self-recrimination, self-consciousness, am-I-sure-I-can't-just-have-one, and obsessively noting what people are drinking and how they're drinking it.

From what I have seen and heard from other sober and sobering-up alcoholics, with whom I've spent a significant amount of time, those experiences are true for both men and women who get sober. It's also true that there's different social conditioning, different social expectations, for men vs. women when it comes to alcohol consumption.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 10:06 AM on August 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Empress, I'm going to assume that Calgon in the US is different to Calgon in the UK, where it is a washing machine de-scaler.

Oh my goodness, it is indeed! In the US, Calgon is a line of bath and body care supplies. In the 1970's and 80s it was known for a series of advertisements with a harried-looking woman being magically whisked away to an edenic paradise via her bath.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on August 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


One day at a time. Keep coming back.

but it feels a bit like telling the author "you're not the only one with problems, other people do too."

Yes.
posted by bongo_x at 11:38 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Her point about the Cool Girl (TM) being associated with whiskey and PBR; the bit about cute-but-unwalkable shoes; the Real-life Smurfette Principle she endured at work with bonus mansplaining about women at that company, and how drinking later was framed as a reward for enduring suffering; the example of the ad where an actor pretended to be happy while being entirely self-sufficient and entirely boyfriend pleasing at the same time; this all seems to be a piece with the realization that sexism makes the world suck for women, and none of us can change all of the instances of that.

Sexism endures because of immense pressure put on individuals from multiple directions to drain our energy (leading to numbing and coping mechanisms kicking in) and encouragement for us to distrust each other and work against each other. It's often difficult to even talk about it; a lot of discussions of the Cool Girl (TM) phenomena leads to women currently in the thick of it feeling judged instead of recognized.

I don't have an answer, but I see her. I want to see all of you.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:40 AM on August 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


This was the Enjoli ad that was referenced. It got a lot of airplay and it definitely stood out at the time as something that was meant to be empowering.

Though I don't know if it's a coincidence that the next pop-culture version of working women we were expected to be involved giant shoulder pads and string "ties" to play down our femininity in order to be taken more seriously as Businesspeople.
posted by Mchelly at 11:53 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Cool Girl bit reminds me of the line in "Before He Cheats" - "Right now, he's probably buying her some fruity little drink 'cause she can't shoot whiskey".
posted by cadge at 12:15 PM on August 17, 2016


I think there's an interesting wrinkle in women's alcohol culture, which is that as we age, many of us have experienced one or more periods of enforced sobriety, colloquially referred to as pregnancy. This is an intense time for women for many, many reasons, not least that strangers, even strangers who stand to profit from selling it to us, see fit to deny us booze, caffeine, sushi, brie, etc. I've gotten side eye purchasing a six pack at the supermarket while visibly pregnant, and it wasn't even for me.

This undoubtedly changes many of our relationships with alcohol. On the one hand, I know I can quit drinking cold turkey. I've done it twice. I've made it through long boozy holiday meals without wine. Long flights with a toddler without a sip of vodka. Crushing work stress on a hot day with no frosty beer awaiting me at home. A lot of people I know seem unsure whether they can cope with alcohol not being available even when they really, really want it. I know I can. On the other, during my pregnancies, alcohol came to represent a freedom from a responsibility that would drive me a bit mad if I let myself think too hard about it. When you're pregnant, you can't end your sobriety for even an hour without opprobrium from a big segment of modern society, perhaps yourself included. You have very few guilt-free options to alter your mind. And it's a time when it would be nice to alter your mind a little bit every now and again. I know I for one appreciate alcohol a lot more now than I used to. I used to like being drunk, a lot. Now I appreciate being even just a little bit tipsy, because I've just recently had that not be an option open to me.

I'm coming to the end of my maternity leave and drinking a lot of beer, because on Monday I become a working mom again, and I know it'll be a few months before I feel together enough to really enjoy a glass of anything.
posted by the marble index at 12:16 PM on August 17, 2016 [19 favorites]



Sexism endures because of immense pressure put on individuals from multiple directions to drain our energy (leading to numbing and coping mechanisms kicking in) and encouragement for us to distrust each other and work against each other.

But the essay itself falls into that trap even as it tries to critique it, because she doesn't quite ever get around to actually seeing the women who are on the "wrong" side of the pool as anything but dupes and hollowed-out husks. I mean, is there a meta-critique somewhere in that maybe?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:27 PM on August 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


I quit drinking 11 years ago. This is one of the best accounts of the first year (or so) of long-term sobriety that I've ever read.

She got it all in there. The exasperation with a world that pushes drink at you constantly, and how it gets a little less annoying the further you are from your last drink. The dawning realization that the world in general has an alcohol problem. Acceptance that while you are the one with the *big* problem, it doesn't make the world's relationship to alcohol any less problematic. The realization that you are being judgy as hell, which usually comes when you've started to get a lot better about it. The fact that a lot of people who do drink, no matter how sanely they drink, don't like hearing any criticism of alcohol or its place in our culture. The experience that criticism of drinking will be met with some very irrational anger. That drink isn't very healthy for anyone, and most people don't want to be reminded of that at all.

And that beautiful bit towards the end, where seems to have realized that the only person's sobriety she can control is her own.

What I like about it so much is the document of a mental journey.
posted by Cranialtorque at 12:36 PM on August 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


But the essay itself falls into that trap even as it tries to critique it, because she doesn't quite ever get around to actually seeing the women who are on the "wrong" side of the pool as anything but dupes and hollowed-out husks.

I actually really liked this about the piece. She is not a totally likeable narrator and makes very little effort to empathize with people who aren't struggling with sobriety in an alcohol-drenched culture. This is about her and her struggle, not about being a spokeswoman for everybody else and giving equal time to others. So much written by women about women ends with some variation of "and we're all just doing our best and everyone is okay! You do you, girl!", i.e. the thinkpiece equivalent of ending a business email with a :)
posted by the marble index at 12:39 PM on August 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


So much written by women about women ends with some variation of "and we're all just doing our best and everyone is okay! You do you, girl!", i.e. the thinkpiece equivalent of ending a business email with a :)

You make a good point. Even in this thread I've been striving to give my comments a balance of supporting her in her choices while critiquing her piece as a work of feminist writing, when I do not actually feel that charitably about her at all and don't think much of her interpretation of feminism either.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:24 PM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


If you watch the stress-achievement-exhaustion-reward ethanol, cycle, among young women, it is saddening. I feel they are being used by the system, not paid well enough, not rewarded enough, and so the big-girl buzz is often the only reward. Then what evolves, people get together to drink, their common interest is ethanol release. When this is wrapped around necessary social situations with regard to the workplace, it takes on an insidious life of its own.

The problem is how hard women from 19-45 years old spin their wheels, and carry the world on their backs for lower pay, and a reward system that doesn't exist. I know they can break away from their chemical romance, and see that they have to reward themselves in positive ways, ways that won't kill them later. Ethanol has lately been classed as a carcinogen. Oh yes it has.

I liked this essay well enough to post it elsewhere. I rarely drink, since I noticed I don't feel the first one, and usually drop the second one. I never drank regularly to begin with, never integrated it into a reward system.
posted by Oyéah at 2:28 PM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't pay much attention to it all any more, because I'm 42 years sober and stopped at 22 before I got to the age when I had real responsibilities. I've spent so much time with a club soda in my hand that I realize no one else cares if I'm not drinking. But it's jarring sometimes when the answer from my girlfriends to my troubles is alcohol. I agree this is a funny, angry, self-aware account of what it's like to be newly sober and realize that the world is selling drunkenness. That can be hard to take when you spent the prior years thinking that you were the only drunk person in the crowd and you just couldn't handle your liquor.
posted by Peach at 2:33 PM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


As a bit of a derail, it's still jarring to me to read about "the cool girl" in internet rants. The girl who drinks whisky and beer and hangs out with the guys. Like they're play acting or something I guess? There always seems to be a tone, to me, like no women are really like this. I don't know if I really understand the intended meaning.

Pretty much every woman I knew as a young person was the cool girl. It wasn't a part, or an affect, it was just a certain kind of person. 50% of them were women.
posted by bongo_x at 3:05 PM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


The problem with the cool girl is that it's often a survival mechanism, one that is often used as a weapon against non-cool girls. I like this article: The 'Cool Girl' Is Not Fiction, But a Phase.

I remember going through it, having to be it, because of working in IT. Insisting I loved not having any female coworkers, drinking with the guys, being treated like one of the guys because that was the only way to have value, and being hostile and unhelpful to women who might steal my territory.

And I do think it's similar - if Cool Girl expires around 32, that's about the time Wine Girl/Wine Mom starts kicking in.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:19 PM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


As a bit of a derail, it's still jarring to me to read about "the cool girl" in internet rants. The girl who drinks whisky and beer and hangs out with the guys. Like they're play acting or something I guess? There always seems to be a tone, to me, like no women are really like this. I don't know if I really understand the intended meaning.

It took on a bit of a specific meaning after the book Gone Girl used it in this way (and keep in mind this is coming from the perspective of a twisted, bitter narrator):
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)”
Not offering this for truth, just context to what that phrase means as a reference.
posted by sallybrown at 3:55 PM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Isn't part of that just growing up though? I used to know this guy who's shtick was hanging out in old man bars drinking. We said, "you know in a few years you'll just be an old man hanging out in bars drinking?" You might be the bad boy outsider at 24, the same behavior at 44 and you're a weirdo.

I like this article: The 'Cool Girl' Is Not Fiction, But a Phase.

That's interesting, but it seems like it depends on the cool girl being a minority and token member of the group. I couldn't really imagine labeling someone a "cool girl" back then and have it mean an anomaly because it was an equal distribution. There was no "girl who hangs out with the guys and does guy stuff" because there was no hanging out with the guys, it was all mixed crowds and it wasn't considered "guy stuff".

Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want.


Yeah, that part I have no experience with or knowledge of. Different world.

Let me be clear, though: Liking beers, hot dogs, sports, partying, and having a general allergy to feelings or Anything Too Serious is not the province of straight men in reality. Anyone can play this game. Plenty of women genuinely love many of these things, myself included. But generally speaking, it is the cultural province and conditioning of straight men.


It's just my own narrow view of the world, but I feel like this has become much more gender stereotyped in the last couple of decades. But I have learned from MF that the country has become much more gender stereotyped in the last couple of decades than I realized. So is this a matter of the book reflecting the times or the book becoming a trope that people repeat?

When I read these things I feel like I'm reading "the athlete girl", I mean, we know women aren't really into sports, they're just trying to look cool for guys.
posted by bongo_x at 4:05 PM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Except an "athlete" is a concept with a meaning external to the viewer. I know I'm an athlete because I compete in a sport. Being "the athlete girl" doesn't say anything about what liquor I drink, or what clothes I wear, or what my body type is, or who I hang out with. There's no baggage there for me to live up to, or fail to live up to.
posted by muddgirl at 4:23 PM on August 17, 2016


Of course women who appreciate whiskey and PBR and play in a recreational kickball team with their male coworkers exist, but they are multidimensional people. They also knit, or volunteer at a senior care center, or take lindy-hop lessons, or dozens of other things that aren't coded as "guy stuff" and thus don't make them "Cool."
posted by muddgirl at 4:26 PM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have found that the best way to deal with the "cool girl" trope is to realize that women who complain about "cool girls" are still working through their internalized misogyny to the point that they need to deny the authenticity of women who are not women in the right way.

Realizing that, has made it a lot easier to ignore what the "real girls" have to say about feminism.

It's not for nothing that the Internet's favorite quote about cool girls is from the fictional diary of a murderous psychopath.
posted by sparklemotion at 4:40 PM on August 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I mean, is there a meta-critique somewhere in that maybe?

I think there absolutely is. I don't know how we can create a space which holds both challenging external and internal bias AND supporting each other through intolerable circumstances. I think this is one of the real crises of social justice - to combine clear critique with kindness without getting trapped by someone who will use our kindness to undercut us. She lampshaded it a few times while also outlining how she fell right into the same antagonistic binary due to the amount of pressure she felt - and how good it felt to have comradery with other women in judging.

To tangent a little - I've been thinking about this mostly in regards to the new Ghostbusters. It does well by white women and straight women; less well by other kinds of women. Within the context of Ghostbusters, you have Leslie Jones explicitly stating she likes her character and thinks she's central and important AND you have black women saying that the fact that she is the only non-academic one, tends to take care of the other women, and is marked as "sassy" reinforces long-standing stereotypes about black women. I think these two things struggle to co-exist, and people who are not black might be inclined to minimize the experiences of some black women using the stated opinion of another black woman. That's not an ok way of handling the conflicting experiences - that is weaponizing the opinions of black women to set them against each other for the comfort of other people - but I can feel the pressure even within myself to pick one side or another and not hold the tension between the two. Similarly, you have Kate McKinnon coded as gay but Paul Feig playing coy about it to the media, which is both painful for LBQ people who would like to see themselves represented openly in film and most likely necessary because of systemic homophobia in the film industry. Both are true simultaneously, and there is a tension between them which invites people to take sides.

Within the context of the essay, the tension of holding the three points of: "I dislike how alcohol is used to stifle anger and reinforce systemic sexism" and "rewarding ourselves when we endure suffering and hardship is important" and "when we attack each other we are being distracted from changing sexism" is intense. I think all three are true, simultaneously, even when they conflict.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:14 PM on August 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't know, I seem to have had a different response to this essay than a lot of you. I have a W(h)ine Night group of friends; we met when we organized a whack of new mom playgroups in our area in the mid-oughts and 6 of us kept going.

At first wine night really was about fun -- blowing off what I personally found to be the mind-blowing stress of trying to balance all the mom/good parent things (are you toilet training? Did it work? Do you have pee down your vent returns?) and mid-career stress (media is imploding and I don't have Twitter followers because I got sick of that stuff with ICQ augh) stress, along with juggling chores in a way the men did not seem to have to. And yes, the wine helped, the chemical lowering of the Good Woman At Work And Home filter to where we could giggle about someone's step son's collection of, ah, used cloths behind his dresser and share our bisexual pasts.

But over the decade some of us divorced as husband found 24-year-old lovers and some of us quit our jobs on stress leave because of insane sexist bullshit and some of us got laid off for not being young and cheap enough. And from that vantage point this essay seems to nail a kind of anger that I indeed was medicating myself out of at the time, which is that I was exhausted not by the stereotypes -- it didn't actually take that long to figure out the rotisserie chicken is okay some night despite its cruelty -- but by the actual lack of support and basically, faith. I had to be Ideal Worker to even hope to keep my job in precarious economic times (I'm not talking luxury cars) and also truck my child to abacus class because the schools don't teach arithmetic much any more.

And for some people we found our way and for a couple it really has been a flirtation if not a romance with only making it through the week lubricated.

So, not so fun. It starts to look like a dark and ineffective coping mechanism. Despite the friendships.

And what would help? Some big things - lack of a winner take all moment in capitalist society and better protection for "older" (over 40!) workers. But also help from men. My husband has been one of the good guys, I have to say...I completely screwed up camp pickup yesterday cause I haven't done it most of the summer. But a lot of us, single mums triply so, have just plain old needed a hand with the emotional and practical aspect of raising young kids in an unforgiving economic environment.

And I see it also in the young women who pick up the ideal female worker stuff at work especially in jobs like media and marketing where labour is both essential and undervalued, and at the opposite end in startups and academia where the adherence to cult work ethic requires the kind of tunnel vision the patriarchy makes easier for men. (You have a huge presentation the day after Mother's Day; who organized the brunch and did you show up?)

So basically I see this essay as exploring the use of alcohol as a way to stop the pain of patriarchy and its failures pretty bang on.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:34 AM on August 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


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